African American Studies


Troy Smith was born in Harlem in 1966 and lived on 123rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. He grew up during the emergence of hip hop in the city and into the mainstream. In this interview he describes his experience growing up during this time as well as his strong interest in hip hop. Troy attended Junior High 43, the same one that Kool Mo Dee and some of the Treacherous Three and Fearless Four had attended a few years ahead of him. Growing up there was hip hop influence all around him, especially with the block parties held in the summertime. He never went to any shows indoors, but through radio and live shows outside, it was hard to miss. He recalls around the age of 11 or 12 hearing the break beats being played and later hearing the first track he can recall called Frisco Disco, and then Rappers Delight. The music was spread through people recording tapes of various shows and then the tapes being passed around. Younger people his age would play the tracks like they were DJ-ing, while the older ones would be trying to become MC’s.

The first tape Troy owned was Grandmaster Flash on the Beat Box. He also remembers tapes put out by Afrika Bambattaa, Busy Bee, Kool Mo Dee, Rayvon and Johnny Wa, as well as many others. These tapes began being sold on the streets and he says Kid Capri was the first one to really sell a lot of these tapes from his rooftop around ‘85 or ‘86. Besides listening to the music and being involved in that way, Troy says he was not really a part of the hip hop culture that many describe when talking about this time period in the Bronx and Harlem. There was definitely a presence of graffiti going on as well as break dancing as well as DJ-ing and MC-ing, but he and his crew were not really involved in that aspect. He really seems to be more interested in the music than everything else going on around it. At the time, Troy was very involved in basketball and admits that during this time he was involved in selling drugs and was usually getting high and in fights as well. He does have one comment about break dancing though and that is that it started out as a black thing, and then became more of a Spanish thing. The blacks then moved on to the Electric Boogie, which is something that is never mentioned when talking about hip hop usually.

Troy discusses the difference between hip hop in the different boroughs as well as the differences he sees in hip hop today compared to back then. He sees today’s music as being more violent which was not the case in the beginning. Today, Troy is one of the major collectors of hip hop material and has around 172 tapes from around ‘77-’83 as well as a few that are into around ‘87. He collects these things as a way to remember and respect those artists as well as hip hop. He mentions that there are a few good artists that could have continued producing great tracks but they wound up caught up in the system.

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